Archive for December 30th, 2013

On HCC Again

The Chron E-Board made a pretty good statement yesterday on an investigation over at the Houston Community College (HCC). They are following up on an article by Ericka Mellon. I am thinking that the Chron is not going to let up on this. That is a good thing. With new trustees coming in, HCC is not likely to sweep this under the rug. Here is the E-Board take:

Once again, a cloud of suspicion hangs over a trustee of the Houston Community College System.

In the past, individual members of the HCC board have been tarnished by ethical improprieties.

We had hoped those troubles were behind us as the college assumes a pivotal position in training the skilled work force that makes our regional economy hum. Now, we’re not so sure.

This time, questions are being raised about the role trustee Carroll Robinson may have played helping a personal friend try to secure a $1.4 million contract with Jacobs Project Management, a major HCC contractor. Robinson’s friend is Laolu Davies-Yemitan, whose firm is Five Woods. Five Woods’ specialty, according to its website, is real estate consulting and facilities work such as landscaping and cleaning; Jacobs was proposing that Five Woods would conduct community outreach for a $1.4 million fee. Ultimately, Five Woods was not retained (“HCC probe: Did trustee steer work to friend?,” Page A1, Dec. 22).

In last Sunday’s story, education writer Ericka Mellon reported that the proposed subcontractor drew questions from Michelle Morris, an attorney HCC retained to monitor procurement.

In a lengthy e-mail to the college Morris voiced several concerns noted by a team of HCC employees working with Jacobs on the $425 million bond issue approved by HCC voters last November. Among them:
A large dollar amount ($1.4 million) would have been carved out for Five Woods. “No one had ever heard of the company,” Morris wrote, “and Jacobs has not ever used this firm before.”

When pressed about the proposal of Five Woods, “the Jacobs representatives revealed that the Five Woods representative was ‘sent’ to them by Trustee [Carroll] Robinson,” Morris wrote.

Morris described the response to her questions about Jacobs’ selection as “a nervous one,” and added, “they outright told me that they are in a ‘precarious position’ (their words not mine).”

Under HCC board ethics rules, trustees are specifically prohibited from suggesting subcontractors to vendors. Robinson denies any involvement in the process that led Jacobs to propose hiring Five Woods and his close friend Davies-Yemitan, and told Mellon, “I don’t appreciate anybody dragging my good name through the mud.” Davies-Yemitan said he never asked Robinson to speak with Jacobs on his behalf.

We have a larger concern. Our community needs HCC to succeed, and it cannot if the conduct of Board members drags HCC’s good name through the mud.

HCC has retained the Gardere Law Firm to do an investigation. We expect the full results of that investigation will be released to the public, hopefully with statements taken under oath.For $1.4 million, taxpayers deserve a better explanation than the cursory claim that the proposed

choice was based on merit in an effort to employ minority-owned small businesses, as Jacobs has stated.

Houston has many outstanding minority-owned communications firms, some of whom Jacobs has previously used. Why was Five Woods proposed by Jacobs?

We believe investigators should ask Jacobs to detail all the minority chambers of commerce it has contacted for referrals, all the minority-owned firms interviewed and the basis for the selection of an unknown landscaping firm over all others for this work and at this price. That is the kind of data we will want to see to be convinced that “merit,” not cronyism, was involved here.

After the e-mail from attorney Morris, Carroll Robinson promptly proposed a change in HCC policy to terminate contracts with vendors if allegations of impropriety are proven true.

We believe Robinson’s idea would have merit if it were better targeted. How about this: Robinson pledging publicly to resign his own position if the investigation concludes he violated the Board’s ethics rules.

Now that’s an ethics policy.

Stay tuned for sure.

In 1972 this Hall of Fame great became the youngest player ever elected to the MLB Hall of Fame – name him?

The MLB Hall of Fame voting is underway. I am keeping my fingers crossed.

I don’t know what you can say about the Texans and their 2-14 record. Nobody saw it coming.

On “Today” this morning Meredith Viera who turned 60 today called in to wish Matt Lauer a happy birthday who turned 56 today. Jane Pauley’s twins who turned 30 today wheeled out a cake for Matt – cool.

Sandy Koufax of course at age 36 was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972. Koufax is celebrating his 78th birthday today.

I don’t have anything from The Yard.

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